Nightingale: trailblazer noble calling

Florence Nightingale was born into a rich, upper-class English family at the Villa Colombaia, Florence, Grand Duchy of Tuscany, and was named after the city of her birth.

His mother Mary née Evans was the niece of one Peter Nightingale, under the terms of whose will William Shore not only inherited his estate Lea Hurst in Derbyshire, but also assumed the name and arms of Nightingale.

Inspired by what she took as a Christian divine calling, she committed herself to nursing.

This demonstrated a passion on her part, and also a rebellion against the expected role for a woman of her status, which was to become a wife and mother.

In those days nursing was a career with a poor reputation, filled mostly by poorer women - hangers-on who followed the armies.

Nightingale announced her decision to enter nursing in 1845, bringing intense anger and distress to her family, particularly her mother.

She cared for poor and indigent people. In December 1844, in response to a pauper's death in an infirmary in London that became a public scandal, she became the leading advocate for improved medical care in the infirmaries and immediately engaged the support of Charles Villiers, then president of the Poor Law Board.

This led to her active role in the reform of the Poor Laws, extending far beyond the provision of medical care. She was later instrumental in mentoring and sending Agnes Elizabeth Jones and other Nightingale Probationers to Liverpool Workhouse Infirmary.

In 1850 she visited the Lutheran religious community at Kaiserswerth-am-Rhein where she observed Pastor Theodor Fliedner and the deaconesses working for the sick and the deprived.

She regarded the experience as a turning point in her life, and issued her findings anonymously in 1851: The Institution of Kaiserswerth on the Rhine, for the Practical Training of Deaconesses, etc. was her first published work.

On August 22, 1853, Nightingale took a post of Superintendent at the Institute for the Care of Sick Gentlewomen in Upper Harley Street, London, a position she held until October 1854.

Nightingale's most famous contribution came during the Crimean War, which became her central focus when reports began to filter back to Britain about the horrific conditions for the wounded.

On October 21 1854 she and a staff of 38 women volunteer nurses, trained by Nightingale, were sent to Turkey, about 545km across the Black Sea from Balaklava in the Crimea, where the main British camp was based.

Nightingale arrived early in November 1854 at Selimiye Barracks in Scutari. She and her nurses found wounded soldiers being badly cared for by overworked medical staff in the face of official indifference.

Medicines were in short supply, hygiene was being neglected and mass infections were common - many of them fatal.

Florence and her colleagues began by thoroughly cleaning the hospital and the equipment, and reorganizing patient care. However, during her time at Scutari, the death rate did not drop - on the contrary, it began to rise.

Conditions at the temporary barracks hospital were fatal to the patients because of overcrowding and the hospital's defective sewers and lack of ventilation.

A sanitary commission had to be sent out by the British government to Scutari in March 1855, almost six months after she had arrived, which flushed out the sewers and improved ventilation. Death rates were sharply reduced.

Nightingale continued believing the death rates were due to poor nutrition and supplies and overworking of the soldiers.

It was not until after she returned to Britain and began collecting evidence before the Royal Commission on the Health of the Army that she came to believe that most of the soldiers at the hospital were killed by poor living conditions.

This experience would influence her later career, when she advocated sanitary living conditions as of great importance.

Consequently, she reduced deaths in the army during peacetime and turned attention to the sanitary design of hospitals.

Florence Nightingale returned to Britain a heroine on August 7 1857 and according to the BBC, was arguably the most famous Victorian after Queen Victoria herself.

In 1883 Nightingale was awarded the Royal Red Cross by Queen Victoria. She died on August 13 1910 at the age of 90.